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Some of the many responses to our letter regarding Bath Chronicle’ lack of theatre coverage

Posted: Friday 12 May, 2017

Dear Rachael

I am writing as both a founder and director of Playing Up Theatre Company as well as a drama teacher in Bath, to protest the removal of regular coverage of the arts from The Bath Chronicle. As someone who was once Features and Supplements Manager at The Chronicle I am well aware of the advertising revenue driven nature of publishing these days. However, the arts are more than a niche hobby or indeed a relaxing social activity after hours. The arts, in all their forms, be that theatre, dance, spoken word, music, exhibitions, street performance or whatever, are an essential part of what makes us human. Our ability to express ourselves and document our history, to educate and also entertain are embedded in the arts. They are also proven as therapeutic for those with physical and mental health problems. To step away from regular coverage of these hugely important activities based simply on financial assessments of the content that sells papers, while commercially logical, is deeply sad and, in the opinion of many, contradictory to what a local media outlet should provide.

Heads of Drama, Dance and Music in this country are already fighting a battle to protect their subjects from swingeing cuts to education. Arts lessons for some students are now fortnightly and in many schools, abandoned. The government appears to believe that only core subjects and a language are necessary for future generations, who already interact socially in an online world and who frequently lack the skills needed to function successfully in the world at large; working in groups with new people, meeting deadlines, expressing opinions lucidly and articulately, arguing a point successfully and presenting themselves confidently. Universities and employers bemoan the absence of these abilities in young people and engaging with the arts (and sport) is proven to help. Your paper does a wonderful job covering sport at all levels and abilities and celebrating the achievements, professional and amateur, of our local sports men, women and children is a regular feature. Why not the arts? The popularity, engagement and variety is equal to sports, yet one is celebrated, the other sidelined.

The arts are a multi-billion pound industry in Britain and one of our most successful tourist attractions and exports. The film, television music and theatre industries are some of our greatest achievements. Our own city boasts the egg, one of the only purpose built young people's theatres in the country, not to mention the main house where plays are regularly opened before their West End transfer. Counting the purpose built theatres at Kingswood, King Edwards, Royal High, Prior Park and Hayesfield, not to mention the ICIA and the Michael Tippett centre at the universities, the Chapel Arts, Burdall's Yard, Forum, Pavilion, The Rondo and The Mission alongside the Theatre Royal, Ustinov and egg we have sixteen venues offering an eclectic mix of professional and amateur work produced and enjoyed by people of all ages. Bath is also the home to international music and theatre festivals and the world famous Natural Theatre Company. Surely a regular arts feature in The Bath Chronicle won't drive your advertisers running for the hills?

Finally I know there are occasional interviews with the latest visiting 'star' to the main house (this week it's James Bolam and Anne Reid) which counts as a sort of coverage but the Theatre Royal is only one venue and, frankly, doesn't need the publicity. What I and many other would like to see is similar coverage of the home produced music, dance, theatre and art which is often overlooked. Please reconsider and remember it's not only reviews that help, but the pre-publicity and general celebration of the arts that counts. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Yours sincerely
Darian Nelson, Director Playing Up Theatre Company

Dear Rachael,

I'm aware that Ann Ellison (The Mission Theatre) has emailed you regarding her, and many others, concerns on the diminishing theatre coverage in the Bath Chronicle. Over the last few years I have been particularly grateful for the coverage that my companies have received and know that this has supported our shows in being well attended. Theatre and the arts is a vital part of Bath's culture and attraction, and it feels only appropriate that the local paper acknowledge, support and raise awareness of the vast creative landscape that we are so fortunate to have on our doorstep.

Kim Johnson, Artistic Director Novato Theatre Company

Dear Rachael,

We were saddened to learn from Ann Ellison about the marginalisation of coverage of theatre life in Bath by the Bath Chronicle.
We particularly support the Next Theatre Group and are Friends at The Mission Theatre in Bath. We also visit other theatres within and outside the City. We believe it to be a really important live form of entertainment, enlightenment and education.
To make a decision to reduce the coverage it has been given in the past, is indeed surprising. Who did you choose in your survey? From market research and surveys I have known in the past, it is easy to sway any survey towards our own advantage, depending on the participants.

Bath is important as a local, national and international place of heritage and culture. To make a decision to severely reduce or to limit the coverage of this facet of the life blood of Bath would be a) a disservice to residents and tourists b) a denial of the importance and long and broad history of theatre life in Bath and c) could even be detrimental to The Chronicle itself.
Firstly, residents and tourists DO want to know what is happening in Bath Theatres.
Secondly, have you ever looked at the long history of theatre in Bath and the interesting backgrounds there are to all our Theatres? Have you promoted this to your readers? Many of whom would have no knowledge of the existence of having the first Royal Theatre outside London in the City and the part that Sarah Siddons had in its history?
Thirdly, as part of the media that we are all exposed to these days, you have a tremendous responsibility for directing our thoughts, providing information and for leading us towards new and different experiences. A change of words, differences in inferences, a promotion, can make all the difference to survival in the world of business, in politics and in all walks of life.

We would hope you might reconsider your stance about the importance of Theatre in Bath. Please do not hide information about it from those of us that love theatre, the tourists and the prospective theatre audiences.
Theatre is alive and well in Bath because it is fairly well supported and that support makes a difference between the theatres being viable or going out of existence.

Whilst we are aware that you have pressures and that the Chronicle must stay successful, the view or directive to reduce the visibility of theatre in the paper, could potentially seriously affect all theatres in Bath. We would ask you to reconsider your support and coverage. Indeed, the Bath Chronicle could turn the tide and with exciting articles on past theatre history, quizzes, theatre walks and competitions. The Bath Chronicle could lead the way to a resurgence in theatre; an explosion in audience numbers and a reduction in participation in unsociable Internet activities.

Yours sincerely
David and Drusilla Smith

Dear Rachael Sugden,

I am very concerned to hear about the marginalisation of local theatre coverage in the Bath Chronicle, since I am very passionate about the arts in Bath and I feel the local theatres such as The Mission and The Rondo are very important to the community.

As I am sure you are aware it worries me that if there is not enough theatre coverage, subsequently, the awareness of theatrical events will be reduced. Fewer people will come to those events and hence touring companies will look elsewhere. I know that touring companies are vital to the survival of theatres such as The Mission and The Rondo. We could soon be in a situation where the grassroots local theatre community is no more.
However, I do appreciate the pressure to deliver market driven news. Therefore I am very much in favour of the proposed solutions by Ann Ellison regarding the monthly theatre feature and extra coverage for the new season programmes.

Personally I think that the monthly feature would be successful because people would look forward to reading it each month, it would become part of their routine if you like. I think the new season programmes would act as a springboard for people to decided what they would like to see in that particular season.
I also have a few ideas and suggestions of my own, which I would love you to consider:

You can find about a film review or TV anywhere on the web, but local theatre is different, and you have to find out about it in the local newspaper. We don’t have ‘local’ TV or local film. Perhaps some more space could be made by dropping something else that may be less desirable such as motoring. Motoring and cars are all over the web on specialist sites such as Whatcar and Autotrader. Hence space could be made for theatre without actually compromising TV or film. This potential solution would encourage a holistic approach from the whole newspaper which might be an option.

I realise the market research that you have undertaken suggests that TV and film are more in demand than theatre. However, I wondered many of the older generation would read the online site, where I am presuming the market research was conducted? Certainly in the case of my late Grandma, (who loved going to the theatre every week), she would never have looked on online because she didn’t use a computer bar emailing friends. Seeing as theatre is a lifeline for isolated older people to get involved int eh community perhaps there are more people reading the newspaper articles about theatre than we think?

I understand that newspapers write what they think people want to read, but i just wonder if actually challenging people to read things they wouldn’t normally read and kind of making a big thing of theatre in Bath is more interesting?

I look forward to hearing from you,
Best wishes,
Ben Armstrong

Dear Rachael

I was disappointed about the reduction of space in the Bath Chronicle devoted to live theatre, but I am encouraged by your response, following discussion, to be open to looking at ways of increasing coverage. I admit that I am biased. I enjoy film and television, but I have always found live performance inspiring, and am actively involved in theatre in Bath, both performing and attending.

I am not a newspaper editor, but I hope that I can appreciate at least some of the constraints under which you work, including the pressure to produce news of local interest with less resources than you would like at your disposal. And so much competition for grabbing the public’s attention.

I am struck by how similar this is to local theatre. Local people trying to draw in an audience, inspiring young as well as older people, competing with so many other ways of being entertained. But the theatres are also local businesses working to draw in interest from outside of Bath - performers discovering what our great city has to offer, and our population and visitors having access to a variety of performance to entertain, educate and stimulate.

We need our local press to champion this, in the face of all the competition. Every new person who is a convert to local news coverage and theatre is a success story.

Many thanks for your attention to this.

Best wishes
Caroline Groom

Dear Rachael Sugden,

Why does your paper no longer have proper coverage of the amateur theatre productions in Bath? Something that happened recently made me realise that the Mission Theatre, for example, is worthy of your attention. Walking along Beau Street this week I bumped into a very famous actor, J Murray Abrahams, who portrayed Salieri in the acclaimed film "Amadeus." I told him a friend of mine also played Salieri in the Mission Theatre many years ago!
I know that local papers are hard pressed to survive in these turbulent times, but please don't throw the baby out with the bath water!

H W Thomas

Dear Rachael Sugden,

As participants in and supporters of amateur drama in Bath as well as supporting the Theatre Royal and the Ustinov, it is disheartening to feel that, whilst mainstream arts events will still attract audiences, regardless of newspaper coverage, the amateur theatre scene will suffer. Amateur theatre in Bath is eclectic and innovative and deserves bigger audiences, so we hope that The Chronicle will be able to offer as much publicity as possible to enable local companies to thrive and grow. T&M W

Some of the many messages of support we have received from friends, supporters and local theatre practitioners:

“Keep up the good work” - Jackie Chappell

“Many thanks for your email and your action on behalf of local theatre with the Chronicle.” Steve Curtis, Bath Drama

“Thankyou for taking the trouble to do this” LW

"Sounds like you got good points over. Let's hope the page idea is shown to be successful." Councillor Cherry Beath

"Many thanks for keeping us updated with your considerable efforts to secure on-going Chronicle coverage of Bath's vibrant amateur drama and music scene. The arrangements you have negotiated are potentially an improvement on the position to date as we will have a publication timetable to work to and a dedicated page. It has always been a little frustrating when submitting production/performance details and not knowing whether they will be included or when. We will all need to make sure we keep a healthy and regular supply of articles and features to justify what appears to be quite a generous deal from the paper. If we don't then I'm sure the Chronicle will have no qualms in withdrawing it." Nick Lee Bath Gilbert and Sullivan Society

"Very well done on your valiant efforts to ensure a profile for non-mainstream theatre in Bath. We have immensely enjoyed the productions we have seen at The Mission and consider the standard of acting and staging to be second to none. Keep up your marvellous work." M&M J

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